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Are Laurel Lee's journal/memoirs (Walking Through the Fire, Signs of Life) so powerful because her life since age 29 has truly been a nonstop emotional rollercoaster? Or because of her distinctive narration--humorous, poetic, grave, with Bible-story-like resonance? Whatever the reason, this third installment--taking 35-ish Laurel from 1980 to 1982--is again a homey yet stately performance that will have you holding your breath at each small turn of events. In remission from Hodgkin's disease again after a temporary relapse, Laurel is living in Oregon with her children; their father is long fled, a recent suitor (unable to deal with cancer and three kids) has also departed; ""our one-parent family was becoming a fact, not a complaint""--especially now that Laurel's writing career has lifted them out of near-poverty. But Laurel wants a husband, the kids want a father, and then Jeremy Foster appears: a distributor of religiously oriented films, 45-ish, divorced, father of four--a gentle, wise suitor who met Laurel at a booksellers' convention. Church-going Laurel is wary, uncomfortable with Jeremy's gifts of jewelry, afraid of a clash between Portland and L.A. cultures. (""You, Jeremy, need a woman with fat fingers to wear all the rings."") Jeremy vows, however, that his priorities are straight at last--God first, then family, then work. He seems at ease with the risk of Laurel's illness returning (the ""ultimate character test""). So, after a long stare in the mirror (""My body was a living hospital chart""), Laurel goes ahead, has a rocky/jolly wedding day, an illness-shadowed honeymoon (false alarms). . .and a new house in Topanga Canyon. And, with amusing glimpses of work/football-preoccupied Jeremy, it seems as if amiable domestic scenery--and welldeserved happiness--will fill out a satisfying close to the Laurel Lee trilogy. Not so. Laurel mildly, cheerfully begins nagging Jeremy about his workaholism, his absentee stepfathering; he stonewalls her, then devastates her by quietly saying: ""I just--it's just a lack of emotional attachment for you."" So Laurel must deal with yet another desertion--she finds hard-won equanimity in faith, forgiveness, tough self-analysis--as well as with the fact that Jeremy has frittered away her life savings. Despite an occasional hint of incompleteness in the Laurel/Jeremy story: another remarkable blend of hope, pain, joy, and--in the glimpses of mother/child interplay--tender comedy.

Pub Date: Aug. 29th, 1984
Publisher: Dutton